We test theory that the arts can improve kids’ academic and emotional skills

By Grainne McCool

Research has found Irish children involved in arts and culture achieve better academically and emotionally – so we’ve taken a look at one Donegal children’s creative writing group to test this theory.

The Write Stuff Kids Club, based in Muff, Co Donegal, caters for children, from five to 14, in Donegal, Derry and Wexford.

The children learn to develop independent thinking – and time is devoted to critical thinking and how as people, we shape ideas.   The younger children tell stories through pictures and then orally and parents are praising the methods used here.

Michelle Doherty Baldrick from Buncrana, who sends her son Jonathan, five, to the workshops, said: “The classes help enhance his imagination and he now has a better command on the English language.

“Jonathan really enjoys the classes, learning through fun and great positive reinforcement for any work he does. This class has helped his self-confidence and has helped him lots with his school work.”

Karen McNally, vice principal of Scoil Naomh Bríd in Muff, said: “Creative writing is an amazing tool to develop children’s power of expression, empathy, critical reading and thinking skills.

“It allows every child the opportunity to develop and experience any storyline they wish in a safe way, regardless of ability. My child loves going to his creative writing club.

“Writing encourages our children to express themselves in such a creative way. We are blessed.”

Karen McNally and T.J
Karen McNally and T.J

Louise Millar’s son Colm, 12, also goes to the club.  She said: “Colm loves it and never likes missing it. He loves talking and having a laugh with the other kids.

“The classes have helped with his confidence as everyone there has a love for books, reading and writing. It gives him a place where he can write about and talk about reading and writing. And this is all without anyone making fun of his love of books.”

Louise and her son, Colm
Louise and her son, Colm

Nicola Baldrick, from Buncrana, sends her two daughters to the workshops.  She said: “I send the girls to these classes, as they want to use tablets and games so much they need to do something with the written word.

“They’re now using the number one tool at their disposal at this age, their imagination, and putting it into words.”

New York Times best selling author and education expert, Sir Ken Robinson said in a Ted Talk in 2006: “Creativity is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.

“Kids will take a chance. They’re not frightened of being wrong. If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original.

“By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They become frightened of being wrong. We stigmatise mistakes.

“In our national education system, mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is we are educating our children out of their creative capacities.”

The recent study was commissioned by the Arts Council and conducted by the ESRI, using Growing Up in Ireland data, to follow children aged three, five and 13 for six months, recording how they engaged in cultural activity and what impact it had.

This is the first time that activities like reading, drama, singing, dance and painting have been scientifically measured for how they affect cognitive development and the emotional well-being of children, here in Ireland.

The study found that reading to young children, self-directed reading to older children and engaging children in various arts, enables them to achieve better academically.

Drama was showed to help children question and to think critically and children involved in creative writing are able to show empathy and express ideas.

The study also revealed involvement in cultural activities has a positive impact on numerical ability.

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